Last night a man in a white jumpsuit with a giant ZZ Top beard, sunglasses, and a bandanna walked out on the stage with a powder blue guitar and grinned at his audience as the faint strains of "When You Wish Upon a Star" faded from the speakers. One would think that after nine albums, the audience would have some clue as to what Mark Oliver Everett (otherwise known as E. the creator of the Eels) was going to do next, but if there's anything E. hates most it's being predictable.
Shrouded in a cloak of mystery, E. doesn't like interviews, often refuses to have photographers shoot near him, makes up false set lists just to throw people off, and has been known to do encores after the house lights have come up and half the audience has gone home. He was going to do things his way and damned be the consequences.
So what happened? E. launched into a set that was which mainly comprised of his last three albums which were all released in the past two years. These three albums are part of a concept trilogy that explore all the undesirable parts of a love affair, beginning with fiery lust and swagger (Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire), the shattering heartbreak of loss (End Times), and the achingly painful road to redemption (Tomorrow Morning). Fitting all of these into one set gave it a slightly schizophrenic feel, swooping from one extreme to another.
E. started the set slowly, wooing the crowd with his first song "What I Have To Offer" off his latest album Tomorrow Morning which promised that although he didn't care about football or fishing he was full of love for you, baby. Usually such lines would fall flat, but Everett's voice, rough as sandpaper, gives his lyrics an unmistakably honest quality (whether deserved or not it's unclear) that makes it sound as if he would give his last breath just so you would understand how he feels.
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To compliment that beauty, E. was joined by guitarist Chet (disclaimer: these were the band names given) who joined him on pedal steel which's haunting chords gave "End of Times" a desperate quality. Then as soon as we were lulled into a false sense of security, BAM! Three more dapper, bearded band members joined the stage and we were pulled from the pit of despair bemoaning the end of the world into the strutting glory of "The Prizefighter" in which E. brags about being an "go all nighter." The entire set wove between these two contrasting ideas. His protagonists were either conquering love or in full retreat. There was nothing halfway, either it was the end of the world and there was nothing left to live for ("In My Younger Days") or the bright beginning ("Spectacular Girl") full of promise. The combining effect was a little unsettling, but never dull.
Then just in case anyone had any doubts about his rocking ability, E. announced we were going to party like it was Saturday night and the band broke into a rousing cover of Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer In The City." Also sprinkled in between the new tunes were reworked old favorites including "My Beloved Monster" which was turned into a party jam and "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" which the crowd joined in the chorus and a unified roar, "Goddamn right, it's a beautiful day." The set ended on a high note with the Eels latest single "Looking Up" a rousing gospel influenced tune which had the whole crowd clapping along followed by two encores.
As the crowd filtered out into the cool October air, I couldn't help but wonder where E. was going to take us next. If desire, love, and despair had all been fully covered, what will he write about? I'm pulling for social justice and human rights. A storyteller that gifted should be able to pen a few of those.